FIRST YOU HAVE THEM, THEN YOU ARE ONE!
Like most of you, my earliest memories take me back to the time when I was 4 or 5 running around the house in my PJ’s, annoying my siblings, and fighting for the attention of the two people who my world revolved around, my parents! With two older sisters and one younger brother, I knew I wasn’t the only one vying for the last of mom’s oatmeal cookies or the final evening “bucking bronco” ride on dad’s back. Early on I learned a whole set of social skills designed to attract the approval and favor of the two pillars upon which my sense of well-being was dependent. Most of the time that skill set included obedience, a compliant attitude, and a pleasnat disposition. But at times I would resort to more desperate tactics like pouting, yelling, throwing temper tantrums, or picking on my little brother. Needless to say, some approaches garnered better results than others.
My dad was a big man (6’1 and 275+ lbs) so his very size was somewhat intimidating. Trust me, when you’re only about 3′ tall, he seemed HUGE! But as big as he was physically, he had an even bigger heart. He was the type of guy who cried at mushy movies, got “blessed” by songs in church, and gave hugs that could squeeze the breath out of you….even after I became an adult. If he was giving you a spanking and said, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” he actually meant it….though, like most children, I had a really hard time buying that one!
My dad had polio just about the time when I was born, so he was never able to do some of the things other dads could do with their sons. Yet, despite the obvious effects of the disease that had ravaged his body, my dad did his best to teach me how to throw a baseball, build a campfire, drive a car, and be a gentleman. In the days since he’s been gone, enjoying the opportunity to run on strong legs all over God’s heaven, I find myself missing his big goofy smile, hearing him sing in his deep baritone voice, his simplistic but wise counsel, and even the lame jokes he told over and over again (“Hi, I’m Cliff…drop over some time!”). He was never much in the eyes of the world, but he was the world to me because he was my dad.
My mom was the obvious authority in our house. She ruled the roust like a mother hen, and even the roster complied with her wishes most of the time. She would say, and those of us who grew up in the house would probably agree, she had no choice but to wear the pants in our family…..dad was just too much of a “softie” and much easier for us as kids to manipulate. She wasn’t necessarily strict, but she was firm. Coming from good German stock, she could hold her own in an argument, and she could do so in two different languages. Though one of my older sisters had a few “knock down, drag out” clashes with her over the years, I always seemed to get along with mom pretty well. After all, I was the “good kid”….or at least that’s the image I tired to sell her. She didn’t always fall for it, but I usually found a way to stay out of trouble and schmooze my way into her good graces.
We all knew mom believed in at least two things….hard work and going to church. Though she wasn’t particularly educated herself, she pressed us to do our best in school. She was never a “stay at home” mom, yet I never felt neglected growing up. We didn’t have much in the way of material goods, but mom made sure what we did have was clean, the food was nourishing, and the activities we participated in were wholesome. She and dad had agreed on a partnership for providing for the needs of our family, and while we were certainly considered to be poor by most people, we were never in poverty.
Recently I’ve had some time to reflect on the impact mom and dad had on my life. While dad had his share of “worry-wart” qualities, for the most part he was an easy-going, laugh-into-the-wind type of guy who took life one small step at a time. In fact, at times we all thought dad was a bit too relaxed. We often teased him that he had three speeds: slow, slower and frozen solid!
Mom, on the other hand, was always moving 3 million miles an hour. As a kid we rarely saw her sit down and relax; she was always folding the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, cooking something in the kitchen, patching our jeans, making the beds, or rushing off to work. The level of intensity rose when mom was in the room. She was always pleasant enough, but you knew underneath that calm exterior her motor was running a full speed.
Unlike so many others, I was privileged to be raised in a Christian home by parents who genuinely loved me. I never doubted the sincerity of their love or their abilities to protect me as a child from the outside world. What we didn’t have in financial security, they seemed to make up for in emotional security. We had a stable family just like “Leave It To Beaver”. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a happy place to grow up.
As I’ve grown older I’ve realized how my values were shaped by my childhood. The tense moments of conflict, which are an inevitable reality in any household, became microcosms of what I would one day face in the real world. Words spoken in anger had to be repented. Doors that were slammed shut to close out others eventually had to be opened up again. Misunderstandings that built walls between members of the family eventually had to be torn down. Critical, judgmental attitudes concerning decisions that were made had to be softened so that trust could be restored. Resentment and bitterness that had taken root in the hearts of those who lived under the same roof had to be removed so that healing could take place in their relationships. No matter how happy my childhood may have been, real life took place under the roof of the Whittlesey house.
As I moved on with my life God has blessed me with a family of my own. Love led to marriage, and marriage produced three more little Whittlesey’s in the world. Though it seems like their first birthdays were only yesterday, all three of those miracles have now grown up, moved out of the nest, got married, and now have families of their own. My wife and I find ourselves on the other side of the equation, looking back over our years of child-rearing, and wondering how many mistakes we made along the way.
Though I was a pastor for many years, I can assure that “real life” didn’t skip our household while the kids were growing up. Whether it was my oldest son emulating my pouting skills, my middle son holding all his emotions inside, or my baby girl feeling like an “ugly duckling” before she realized she was a “beautiful swan”, my children displayed all the normal disabilities of being children with imperfect parents — short tempers, a desire to avoid all forms of work, an aversion to any food that was good for them, a unique ability to get dirty, emotional outburst for absolutely no reason, taking sordid pleasure in pushing mom and dad’s buttons, and a fascination with the word “NO”! Don’t get me wrong, they were cute, and we stood like proud peacocks at every school function, Little League game, choir concert, school play, Christmas program, Senior Prom and graduaiton. But trust me, they weren’t perfect just because they were PK’s (Preacher Kids). And from what I can surmise, they were fairly aware that we weren’t perfect parents! Imagine that?
Conflict with one’s kids is just part of the package of being a parent. It has a way of rising in every family situation, no matter who you are, what you do for a living, or what your circumstances may be. The Bible says the “rain falls on the just and the unjust”, so when it comes to being a parent, no one is exempt for the normal course of events. The storms your parents had to put up with when you were a kid most likely were a precursor of storms you will have to endure as a parent yourself. Doesn’t that just bless you?
There are some of you reading this today who are still trying to recuperate from the tornado of your own childhood. The scars run deep and even as an adult you carry with you the weight of your unfortunate upbringing. How could your parents….you mom and dad or others who were suppose to fill that role…….inflict so much pain in your life? As an innocent child you naturally trusted them to guide you, lead you, protect you, provide for you, and love you. Yet, your childhood was anything but the pleasant “Leave It To Beaver” home I was privileged to be raise in. Your upbringing may have been more like a living hell filled with anger and reprisal. Perhaps it was as cold and sterile as an operating room, with everyone wearing masks to avoid any real emotions or expressions of genuiune concern. Or maybe your home was so broken by divorce and instability that you really never had a chance to be kid. You survived the storm, but it’s definitely taken a toll on who you’ve become!
Perhaps you have been disheartened to realize that the failings you saw in your parents have shockingly found their way into your own parenting style. The high and lofty goals you set for yourself as a parent may be blown away by the winds of difficulties, job stress, a strained marriage relationship, financial pressure, or any other of life’s many obstacles. The calm and tranquility you desire for your home life may be interrupted by the tempest of your toddlers, the storms created by your school-aged children, or the adverse conditions brought into your household by your adolescents. It’s not whether or not the winds of turmoil will blow into your family life; it’s “what are you going to do when it happens” that will make all the difference.
Some of you, even now, are experiencing this “heartstorm” called parenthood. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking back at being a parent from an empty nest or are currently caught up in the chaos created by a nest that is still full of chirping little ones under your care. You may feel ill-prepared for the challenge of being the mature adult in a home filled with childhood selfishness, endless bickering, emotional outbursts, stubborn refusal to acknowledge your authority, or your child’s backtalk that disrespects you as person, let alone as their parent.
Many parents seem to crack under the mounting pressure of raising their families. When the storms in the home begin to blow, they resort to unhealthy habits that do nothing to calm the atmosphere, but rather increase the intensity of the tempest that is brewing. Some parents get to a place where they have “had enough” and retreat into solitude. Other parents explode in anger, yelling, screaming, and turning red in the face, evidently trying to intimidate their kids into behaving through verbal abuse. Unfortunately, like a hurricane that is completely out of control, some parents cross the line by using their physical superiority to inflict harm on their children. No matter what the reaction may be, such reactions to the storms in our homes are counterproductive, both for the children involved and for their parents.
What you need to know is that you’re not alone! Through the ages parents have dealt with the questions, concerns, and pressures of raising a family. The storms that you may be facing as a parent have been faced by generations of parents before you. The specfics may be somewhat unique to your situation, but rest assured there are countless other parents who have had to walk through that same downpour.
Whether you’re struggling through the squall of your responsibilities as a parent or facing the aftereffects of the gale force winds that marred your own childhood, the storms created by parenthood are very real. The impact of those cloudbursts can last a lifetime unless we personally meet the One who can calm the wind and waves. Whatever your circumstance may be, Jesus offers us all peace amidst the storm. If you had a parent or are a parent (and I’m pretty sure you do, or did, or will be) I encourage you to cling to the Rock that never moves, no matter how fierce the storm may be. Let the Heavenly Father and His only Son become personal mentors for you as a child and as a parent.